Madison in Baghdad? Decentralization and federalism in comparative politics
Research on comparative decentralization and federalism is a booming industry. Recent research integrates insights from political science, economics, and economic history in emphasizing the importance of incentives for the operation of decentralized government. Such work has focused particular attention on fiscal, representative, and party institutions. In reviewing the past decade's research, I make two arguments. First, the comparative research on decentralization and federalism provides a model for how comparative politics can address some of the most profound questions in social thought by focusing on a theoretically and empirically tractable aspect of governance. Second, although the research addresses many of the key questions in comparative politics, it also struggles with some of the same problems and challenges as comparative politics writ large, particularly the issue of institutional endogeneity. Attention to endogeneity is central to better understanding the workings of decentralized governments and providing less facile policy recommendations for the reform of places as diverse as the United States and Iraq.
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